Lindenwood-Belleville student housing controversy gets zoning hearing
Before a packed crowd on Wednesday night and after hearing passionate statements for and against Lindenwood University-Belleville’s student housing plan, the Belleville Zoning Board of Appeals voted 6-0 to support Lindenwood’s request for more than 50 special-use permits for students living in homes and apartment buildings purchased by the college.
The zoning board’s vote is advisory and the City Council has the final say. Aldermen are expected to vote on the application Monday night.
While residents who live near the school often said they support Lindenwood overall, they urged the board to deny or table Lindenwood’s request because they believe too many students are being jammed into their neighborhoods causing traffic, parking, noise and litter problems. Overall, 17 people spoke against Lindenwood’s request.
Twenty-three people spoke in favor of Lindenwood, many of them employees of the school. While they often said they understood there would be “growing pains” as Lindenwood’s enrollment grows, they told the board to keep in mind the economic impact that the university has on the Belleville economy.
We are absolutely in tune with trying to do what we can and to quickly answer the concerns of the residents.
Brett Barger, president of Lindenwood University-Belleville
Brett Barger, president of Lindenwood University-Belleville, said the first time he heard about complaints about Lindenwood was in September when residents began going to City Council meetings to air their concerns.
“We are absolutely in tune with trying to do what we can and to quickly answer the concerns of the residents,” he told the board.
Too many houses with too many students and too many cars.
Gene Behrmann, a Belleville resident summing up concerns of people who live near Lindenwood
Gene Behrmann, a Belleville resident whose daughter lives near the campus, spoke against Lindenwood’s request. After the meeting, he said he was disappointed but not surprised by the vote. He reiterated the residents’ primary concerns: “Too many houses with too many students and too many cars.”
While most of the people who spoke in favor of Lindenwood’s application do not live near the campus, there were some residents who supported the college’s request.
Lindenwood officials said an average of 6.5 students live in Lindenwood-owned homes and that the properties were inspected by the city before students moved. Also, Lindenwood reports that nearly 1,000 students and metro-east residents signed a petition in support of the college’s housing plan.
The zoning board tied its vote to seven conditions:
▪ Cap the number of students per home at 10, which is down from the current maximum of 16 allowed by an ordinance passed in 2012.
▪ Require annual inspections by the city’s fire and building departments.
▪ Hold quarterly meetings with Lindenwood and city of Belleville staffs to review property inventory, occupancy permit compliance and public health and safety issues.
▪ Hold annual end-of-school town hall meetings with Lindenwood officials, city staff and area residents to identify concerns “well before” the fall semester begins.
▪ Lindenwood should submit an acceptable parking plan to the board within 90 days.
▪ Lindenwood should find a way to safely light properties but not have the light intrude on neighbors.
▪ All front yards should remain as green space.
Barger asked to board to imagine what the neighborhood would look like if Lindenwood had not taken over the old Belleville West High School. “It’s scary. It’s frightening,” he said.
Dan Nollman is chairman of the zoning board. The other members are Rebecca Boyer, Timothy Price, Don Rockwell, Patrick Sullivan, Toni Togias and Steven Zimmerman. Zimmerman was absent Wednesday night.